How to Help Your Children Cope with Legal Separation

                  Some say that each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children, so this article will discuss steps you can follow every day to help your children cope with legal separation during a divorce.

  1. Understand the Parenting Plan and Follow It. A parenting plan is a custody and visitation agreement that sets out when the child will be together with the parent and how decisions for the children are made. It can be developed by parents independently, agreed to during mediation, established with the help of lawyers, or decided upon by a judge after a trial or hearing.  The first step in supporting your children is to know and follow the parenting plan.  Your adherence to this agreement will typically help the children plan and adjust because following the plan will establish consistency during this time of change.
  1. Prepare for Your Child’s Stages of Grief and Be Patient. Children will respond to the divorce with different emotions, so one plan doesn’t fit all.  However, it is common for children to follow the model of grief that includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. It can be a challenge for a parent who is experiencing his or her own stages of grief to be a support to children who may be acting out or withdrawing into seclusion, but  exercising patience and understanding with your children can help them adjust more quickly.
  1. Don’t Forget to Plan for Your Child’s Future When Negotiating the Financial Side. Parents often focus on custody and can forget the financial side of properly preparing their children for divorce. When looking at the assets, consider your child’s financial future.  Did you plan to pay for a vehicle for a teenage child? Were you going to help your children with educational expenses?  What types of financial circumstances are your children accustomed to – such as allowances, or money for certain lessons or hobbies or sports.  You will help your child cope with a divorce if you don’t forget to be an advocate for their financial needs.
  1. Discipline and Conflict Resolution. It’s never too early to plan ahead for arguments and discipline with your child. If the children are small, try to handle rules and habits in similar ways.  For small children, it can be helpful keep similar bedtimes and habits.  For older children, it may be beneficial to have matching curfews or household responsibilities. Even if you don’t feel it is in your child’s best interest to match the strategies for discipline and conflict resolution utilized by the other parent, it may be helpful for you to at least understand what the rules and expectations are at the other household.
  1. In many cases, the communication between the parents is the key to helping the child cope because the child does not benefit from being caught in the crossfire of parent power struggles or misunderstandings. Be clear about travel, special occasions, and requests for changes in schedule. Establish a businesslike method of communication that is not emotional or destructive. Good communication often leads to a peaceful and predictable environment that is beneficial for most children.